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First-Ever Study on Fungal Diversity Finds Feet Are Home to More Than 80 Types of Fungus

May 23, 2013 10:08 AM EDT
Doctor Checks for Foot Fungus
A doctor checks the feet of bathers looking for fungus before they enter to public pool in Mexico city April 8, 2012.
(Photo : Reuters)

The results from the first study of human fungal skin diversity are in and when it comes to the body part with the greatest variety, feet are the winner.

In all, the heel is home to about 80 genus-level types of fungi, the toenails 60 and the spaces between toes another 40.

And while researchers weren’t necessarily surprised to find such high numbers at the feet, they were surprised by the incredibly low diversity found inside and behind the ears as well as the rest of the head and trunk of the body: on average, these areas had between just two and 10 genera each.

Areas of moderate fungal diversity included the bend of the arm, inside the forearm and palms, each of which supported some 18 to 32 varieties.

“The data from our study gives us a baseline about normal individuals that we never had before,” Julie Segre, a co-senior author and senior investigator from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), said in a press release.

These discoveries are the result of the first sequencing of the DNA of fungi at skin sites of healthy adults by scientists at the National Institutes of Health.

“Applying DNA sequencing to a study of the skin’s fungi is the natural progression in understanding microbial life that co-exists on our bodies,” NGHRI Scientific Director Daniel Kastner said.

And while not everyone may want to know about the variety of fungi growing on their bodies, Heidi Kong of the National Cancer Institute explained that such knowledge can only better equip the world of medicine.

“By gaining a more complete awareness of the fungal and bacterial ecosystems, we can better address associated skin diseases, including skin conditions which can be related to cancer treatments,” she said.

Another surprise discovery made by the researches was a greater similarity in the fungal community structure on the left and right sides of the same person’s body compared to the same body parts on any two individuals.

“The bottom line is … wear your flip flops in locker rooms if you don’t want to mix your foot fungi with someone else’s fungi,” Segre said.

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